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Security chief to visit Buffalo Chertoff to discuss new border-crossing rules

The nation's top homeland security official will visit Buffalo on Monday to discuss his insistence on tougher border crossing rules.

But so far, the visit by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appears to be exacerbating some of the hard feelings stemming from those proposed new standards.

Two tough critics of the proposed border rules -- Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds and Buffalo Niagara Partnership President Andrew J. Rudnick -- weren't invited to the meeting until Friday, and neither appeared particularly happy about that.

"I think the secretary has indicated he's coming to Buffalo on a windshield tour," said Reynolds, who said he wouldn't be accompanying Chertoff. "It's another trip of empty rhetoric."

Rudnick, meanwhile, said a Homeland Security aide called and invited him, acknowledging that the invitation came only after The Buffalo News had inquired about why local business leaders had not been invited. Rudnick was trying to rearrange his schedule in order to attend.

And a spokesman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Democratic presidential front-runner was not invited to the meetings with Chertoff. Clinton will attend a fundraiser for her presidential campaign and meetings in New York City instead of the events in Buffalo.

Chertoff will arrive at the Peace Bridge at 10:45 a.m. and appear at a private round-table discussion with local elected officials at 11:05 a.m. He will have a news conference at noon and leave at 12:25 p.m.

Despite the controversy over who was invited and who wasn't, some of the politicians who will accompany Chertoff said they hoped the visit would convince him not to proceed with a plan to require passports or something similar at the Canadian border starting next summer.

"I'm very pleased that he's coming," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, who invited Chertoff to Buffalo.

Slaughter said she hoped the visit would change Chertoff's views not only on the border passport requirement, but also on "shared border management": the plan to build a massive U.S. inspection station on the Fort Erie side of the Peace Bridge, which Chertoff has rejected.

"I want to ask: Where will the money come from if we have to build a new plaza on our side of the border?" Slaughter said.

Reynolds termed the visit "sort of a dog and pony show" that would likely do nothing to change Homeland Security's border policies.

"The secretary's visit does not have any relevance unless he comes here to re-establish shared border management or with a plan to simplify border access" under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which calls for the passports, Reynolds said.

Likewise, Rudnick said he didn't expect much out of the meeting.

"So far the position has been so consistent, irrespective of all the concerns and evidence we have presented to the contrary, that I don't know what this will be for him except exposure to the real world," Rudnick said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who will attend the meeting, said the meeting might actually do Chertoff some good.

"It certainly can't hurt to have him see the situation right on the ground," said Schumer, D-N.Y.

Rep. Brian Higgins, who will also attend, agreed.

"It's good that he's coming," said Higgins, D-Buffalo. "The question is: Where has he been?"

There's also the question: Who issued the invitations to the event?

Slaughter said Chertoff "has control over who is going to be there."

A Chertoff spokesman, Russ Knocke, said Slaughter "in many respects is hosting the secretary." But he added that he was "not sure" who was responsible for the invitations.

And while Clinton won't be there, she said in a statement that she hopes the session might do some good.

"Given the secretary's apparent failure to understand the needs of our Northern Border communities, I hope that during his tour of Buffalo and the Peace Bridge, he decides to provide us with a real, constructive plan that addresses the economic concerns of the region without compromising our security," Clinton said.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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